The Lewis Hine: Immigration and the Progressive Era kit may be utilized in the classroom in several ways. While the teacher will have his/her own ideas as to how it may best be used in individual classroom situations and specific lesson plans, the following may serve as suggestions for supplementing particular parts of the curriculum and/or initiating discussion of certain lessons.
Hine documented a particular set of social conditions at a specific time in the development of modern America. His photographs of both child labor and immigration make important visual statements of actual conditions. These may be helpful in identifying some of the problems faced by the country in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The realism characteristic of Hine's work lends itself well to the effort to understand significant historical and social events.
Key concepts for use of the kit for social studies
Hine's photographs are excellent documents for viewing the historic period from the turn of the century to about the time of the Depression, i.e., the first quarter of the twentieth century. His determination to produce unretouched pictures for his goal of influencing public opinion also produce very realistic records of how people and places looked at the time. These can be excellent aids in reconstructing lifestyles and the physical surroundings of the period.
Key concepts for use of the kit for history
Historic reconstruction by use of
Hine's work represents a particular landmark in the history of modern photography. His goal of realistic documentation and the compositional traits of his work can be of some use in photography classes where there is a need to study major photographers or to examine photographs for specific technical elements or both.
Key concepts for use the kit for photography
While the Hine photographs are obviously geared toward the documentation of working conditions and other social circumstances in America in the early twentieth century, they may find use in the classroom in several other ways. Following are suggestions for some of these uses, to supplement the "suggestions" sheet in the kit. The teacher will probably also find others to fit his/her particular needs. A history class or any class interested in finding out how common, everyday things really were in another time will be able to use these photographs as a sort of "photographic archaeology."
For example, if one examines the background objects in a photograph of an individual or group one can usually identify such things as:
What were the structures like? What can you pick out in the picture that is different from what houses are like today? What other things can you find (outbuildings, furnishings, plants, etc.) that are either like or different from what we use today?
Construction materials, architecture, relationships, etc. What do the signs on the buildings say? (It is convenient to use a magnifying glass in examining the photographs for details such as these.) Are these like or different from what you see today? What can you tell about the people who worked in or used these businesses?
What are the buildings like? What is the landscape like? How do you think work on the farm was organized around these buildings? Identify as many things as you can in the picture (tools, machines, animals, etc.) and try to surmise what some of the unfamiliar objects could be.
How did people get around at the time the picture was made? What could you tell about the time period of the photograph by studying the modes of transportation depicted? Are there any social aspects revealed by a study of transportation (status, acceptance or rejection of change, etc.)?
If there are any tools or machines in the picture, what are they like? Are these tools still in use today? Can you identify the use of all the tools? If not, what do you think they could have been used for? How important are tools in understanding a society or a period in time?
Mines, mills, factories, agricultural fields, "homework," etc. are recorded in many of Hine's photographs. How can we reconstruct conditions in this time period by studying the physical surroundings in which work took place? The understanding of technology is an important part of knowledge of any society. What can you say about the state of technology as documented in the photographs?
Important clues to the organization and operation of a society at any point in time can be obtained by studying how people dress and how the embellish their personal appearance. Status is frequently proclaimed by how one dresses and what jewelry, etc. one wears. In addition there is the simple identification of time period which one can make based on clothing styles. Notice what was worn by women, children and men; by young and old; by people working in different occupations; by rich and poor; by immigrants from different countries. Compare this with your own experience. What would a student in the future studying your society and time period conclude by examining the variety of styles in clothing and personal adornment found today?
Lewis Hine documented the situation of immigrants pouring into the U.S. with the same combination of relentless realism and artistic composition found in his work on child labor and the working conditions of the poor all around the country. He at least tempers the oftentimes romantic picture we have of immigrants coming to the great "melting pot" country and laboring to build a nation by making us aware of the harsh conditions under which these people lived and worked.
Hine did his work initially with a 5x7 view camera with rapid rectilinear lens, using a magnesium flash at night or indoors. He worked with a 5x7 and 4x5 glass plates, later using 4x5 film. About 1920 he began using a 4x5 Graflex, adapted for either a five or eight inch lens.
Ellis Island, the leading U.S. immigration center form 1892 to 1943, was the point of entry for thousands of Europeans coming to this country. During the time of Hine's two immigration series, between 1903 and 1913, ten million people came to Seattle in the U.S. A large number of these were from the Eastern European area, although they came from all over the continent. Lithuania, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Latvia, Germany, Poland and the Scandinavian countries were heavily represented. Many were poor or in some manner dispossessed from their homeland. Landing at Ellis Island with a few possessions they could transport, they began their "new life", often eagerly, but with apprehension.
After arrival, immigrants had to undergo processing before they were allowed to leave Ellis Island and enter the country. This included health clearance, as well as checking on such things as political activity and criminal background. For some, the process went relatively quickly and without incident. For others, it turned into a waiting game that probably compounded anxiety with boredom and exhaustion. Regardless of ones station in life in the Old World, one still waited, clutching valuables in bags and baskets. Hine reveals his sensitivity for the subject in the thoughtful images such as that of the young Russian immigrant girl or the Italian mother and child.
Leaving on a railroad trip, immigrants, many of whom had little command of English, were tagged by train officials so they could safely reach their destination.
Life in the new environment was not easy for many immigrants. Crowded into poor neighborhoods, they lived in small apartments, and worked and played in trash-strewn streets. In many cases, new immigrants were drawn to neighborhoods where their countrymen from the Old World had settled, so that certain areas in many large cities took on the Old World character of the predominant population living in them. The well-known places such as "Little Italy" in New York are the result of this tendency to find familiar cultural ties to lessen the impact of sudden immersion in an unfamiliar system, among often indifferent or even hostile strangers.
Immigrants were regarded as a good source for cheap labor. They were very willing to work, but their long hours and physically demanding labor were rarely rewarded with adequate wages. Often a family toiled together well into the evening doing homework that was brought home by someone in the family or sometimes dropped off and picked up by a stranger. These tasks included making papers flowers, shelling nuts, picking rags and making pillow lace. Often, such detailed work and improper working conditions resulted in health problems later on.
Immigrants were employed in factories, sweatshops, coal mines, and other dangerous positions. Many times, faulty machinery and physical exhaustion would lead to loss of limbs, or even death.
Later, immigrants would play a major role in the nation's expansion. As they had done since the nineteenth century, immigrants had a large part in building the railroads and were a major part of the labor force in other projects, such as building the New York State Canal System and the Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the world.
Lewis Hine was commissioned by the National Child Labor Committee to produce a series of documentary photographs showing conditions under which children were required to work. This led to a major part of his life being spent in documenting such conditions, traveling thousands of miles to photograph children at work in all parts of the country. He worked everywhere from the coal mines of Pennsylvania to the cotton fields of Georgia and the beet fields of Colorado. His work had a great deal to do with child labor legislation being enacted. One has only to study a few of his pictures to feel the impact they must have made on the nation at a time when the circumstances documented by Hine were actually occurring.
Hine did his work initially with a 5x7 view camera with rapid rectilinear lens, using a magnesium flash at night or indoors. He worked with glass plates, and later 4x5 sheet film. About 1920 he began using a 4x5 Graflex, adapted for either a five or eight inch lens.
Boys, some as young as four or five years, were employed under some of the harshest conditions found in the factories, mines, mills, and agricultural fields of the country early in this century. They often were relegated to the worst jobs—chores that older workers were sometime not able to do. For example, sometimes a small person was required to work in a small or cramped space and young boys were "perfect" for the purpose. Sometimes the skill level required for a job was very low and quite young children could perform the functions with a minimum of training. It was this situation which bothered Hine a great deal. Children drafted into low skill jobs at an early age never had the opportunity to acquire the education or skills for better paying jobs as they grew older. They often found themselves "stuck" in a life of poverty, unable to advance themselves.
Children also sometimes worked at adult jobs, standing beside the older workers at the machine for eleven or twelve hours a day. They were poorly paid for their long hours and frequently suffered disease, injury and early death because of the conditions. This was especially true in the mines. Mines were chilly and damp; leaking gas in the coal mines was a constant threat. Children aged rapidly in these circumstances.
The mills also took their toll. Very young children could be trained for many jobs on the machines. Such a child may be so small that he or she would have to climb onto the machine to perform some tasks—a dangerous undertaking that sometimes resulted in injury. The opportunities for injury were many and existed in a number of typical working situations involving children.
Even older boys with certain skills were subjected to long hours of tedium—itself an invitation to injury—under poor conditions. The ever present open gas flame poured fumes into the air of windowless workspaces. Girls were also employed at an early age and in a variety of jobs, most frequently in the garment factories and mills in urban areas and in the fields in rural areas. While conditions in general may not have been as harsh as, for example, the coal mines and saw mills where boys were primarily employed, many of the mill jobs were dangerous. In any case, girls were subject to the same long hours, low pay, and the lack of opportunity to obtain a formal education as were the boys.
Many other jobs occupied the children. While some were cleaner and less hazardous than the mines and mills, they were not much better for children, who still worked long hours, and may be working as late as 1 A.M. Newsboys were at work at all hours—early morning to late at night, freezing on the streets in the winter. Sometimes they reached the point of exhaustion.
Glass factories were often the subject of Hine's work. Boys worked close to the molten glass, although in general they may have fared better than the less fortunate mine workers. Other menial chores kept the children away from school and play, thrusting them into the adult world before they should have been.
Even many children who went to school and who escaped the drudgery of the mine and mill were pressed into labor instead of having the freedom of most modern children. "Homework" occupied large numbers of children and adults in a form of family industrial unit—at one time a significant economic entity.
Large families were at the same time an economic asset and an economic drain for the parents. Having many children made for difficult circumstances for poor families, whose efforts to feed, clothe, and shelter them was more than they could handle. Poor families, therefore, often had little choice but to put their children into the work force as soon as they were able. Industry, of course found this cheap source of labor a benefit and did not discourage the practice, oftentimes attempting to glorify child labor as desirable. "Why shouldn't the child work alongside his mother? The child will then be safe" (Aperture, p. 13). Hine's work for the National Child Labor Committee revealed the dark side of the children's working conditions and helped establish the need for legislation to curb this type of exploitation.
Images included in this kit are representative of Hine's extensive work documenting conditions for both men and women workers in a variety of occupations. He was interested in several aspects of work: machine technology replacing the craftsman, the plight of semi-skilled and unskilled immigrants who had to work under poor conditions and for low pay, the exploitative use of children in the work force, and the circumstances of whole families engaged in home industry where the lives of parents and children were consumed as they produced everything from artificial flowers to foodstuffs at the kitchen table.
While many of Hine's photographs depict terrible conditions and elicit strong reactions to the often inhumane treatment of workers by industrial and agricultural management, many of his photographs are simply records of the people at work. Some workers, quite opposite to the more famous child laborers of his National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) project, actually appear to be, if not enjoying their work, at least not feeling bad about it. Smiling faces and reasonably contended people are illustrated.
Hine's work seems to be divided into two periods -an artificial division, of course, but one which seems to be used in many works on Hine (see bibliography). The line seems to be about 1920 and does, in fact, mark Hine's departure from almost total commitment to the NCLC and his growing concern with making a more general documentation of the American worker. Even his two series on immigrants reflect a different attitude—not only in Hine himself but in the people he photographed. Many of the "at work" photographs are actually of immigrants since so much of the labor force at that time was composed of these people. Some sources, such as Women at Work, are divided along the 1920 line, clearly reflecting the difference in Hine's work and his subjects.
Born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Enrolls at the University of Chicago; remains there until the following summer.
Goes to the Ethical Culture School in New York City with Frank Manny, who was appointed Superintendent of the school. Attends New York University for a time.
Marries Sara Ann Rich in Oshkosh. Becomes involved in the project to photograph immigrants at Ellis Island. This project lasts through 1909.
Receives a Pd. M. degree from Columbia University in Sociology.
Publishes articles on photography in education. Begins freelance work for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC).
First assigned project for the NCLC, on New York’s tenement homework. Works for National Consumer’s League. Begins to photograph for the Pittsburgh Survey under the direction of Paul Kellogg.
Works with Edward Clopper, Ohio Valley States Committee, photographing mines and factories in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and West Virginia to document child labor conditions.
Field work for the NCLC in Georgia, Connecticut, and Maryland. Hires an assistant for darkroom work (Paul Schumm). Photographs for the New York State Immigration Committee.
Photographs in Buffalo canneries, Delaware street trades, and Alabama cotton mills and mines.
A son, Corydon, is born.
Works in the South, Southwest, and Northeast. Lectures for the NCLC. Exhibits his work in the San Diego and San Francisco expositions. Continues child labor investigations. Travels over 50,000 miles between 1916 and 1917.
Ends association with the NCLC. Joins the American Red Cross and photographs in France, Italy, Greece and the Balkans.
Continues to work in France and Belgium. Returns to New York in June, 1919, and works in publicity department of the American Red Cross, arranging exhibitions, etc. At this time Hine begins to stress the artistic and symbolic aspects of the camera. His publicity now reads, “Lewis Wickes Hine, Interpretive Photography.” He calls his new work the “human side of the system.”
Hine’s work is featured in The Survey, edited by Paul Kellogg. This association provides most of his income for the decade. Becomes associated with the NCLC again, working mostly with rural agriculture and education.
During this period Hine does a new series on Ellis Island and he works for agencies such as the National Consumer’s League, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, and the Milbank Foundation. Hine also works for commercial enterprises, including the Western Electric Company.
Receives various honors, including a medal from the Art Director’s Club for his portrait, “the Engineer.” Despite this and other honors he is discouraged about making a living as a photographer and plans to move upstate.
Offered a job photographing the construction of the Empire State Building. He considers this an aspect of his “interpretation of industry.”
Does freelance work for various agencies and publications. Works for the American Red Cross, documenting drought conditions in Arkansas and Kentucky. Has a major exhibition at the Yonkers Art Museum in NYC.
Publishes a picture book for children, Men at Work.
Hine meets manufacturer, Sidney Blumenthal, of Sheldon Looms, leading to production of his portfolio of mill workers titled Through the Loom. This portfolio is the basis of an exhibit at the 1933 World’s Fair. He sends a copy of the portfolio to the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum. Suggests a photographic survey of Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) projects. Is hired for a TVA assignment at Wilson and Muscle Shoals sites. He receives $1,000 for the month-long survey. Hine does not get along with the TVA and the relationship does not last.
Hine again does some work for the American Red Cross in Upstate New York. Travels 2,000 miles in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York for the Rural Electrification Administration. He does some small jobs for the Montclair Public Library, the New Haven Community Chest, and the New York City Parks Department.
As head photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Project Administration (WPA), Hine works on a project, never completed, on technological change. Photographs from the WPA project are published in booklet form. He photographs Civilian Construction Camps (CCC), urban activities, unemployed miners, and rural communities for the WPA.
Hine has no income from photographic work or government agencies by this time. His son, Corydon, who has assisted him since 1931, has a serious accident. Beaumont Newhall’s important article, “Documentary Photography,” spurs interest in Hine. Berenice Abbott and Elizabeth McCausland urge him to have a retrospective exhibition at Riverside Museum. Hine is unsuccessful in an attempt to interest the Carnegie Corporation in a photographic study of American craftsmen.
The Hine Retrospective opens in January, sponsored by Stieglitz and others. The show travels to the Des Moines, Iowa Fine Arts Association Gallery and the New York State Museum in Albany. Publicity leads to new assignments with the Hartford Courant and for Fortune magazine in Scranton, Pa. His wife, Sara Rich Hine, dies on December 25.
Hine sells ten enlargements to the New York School of Social Work for $150. Has a small exhibition at a bookshop in Washington, D.C. Tries unsuccessfully to interest the Guggenheim Foundation in the American craftsmen project. Gives 100 prints to the Russell Sage Foundation and the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library. Hine dies on November 4 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital following an operation. He is buried at Ardsley-on-Hudson.
Hine’s prints and negatives were given to the Photo League by Corydon along with some papers. Subsequently, these were donated to the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House by Walter Rosenblum in the name of the Photo League.